This season has been one for the ages as far as figuring out this 2014 Gamecock football team. They have blown games in the 4th quarter by not stopping teams on defense and not getting key first downs on offense.
Saturday it looked like the same script again as the Miami Hurricanes cut a 10 point lead to 3 with just over 2 minutes left in the 2014 Duck Commander Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. But a big third down conversion by RB Mike Davis gave the Cocks a 24-21 win over the U to finish a bad year with 3 wins out of the last 4 and giving the Cocks a school record 4th straight bowl win. It also gave Coach Steve Spurrier a 7th straight winning season tying him with Billy Laval who coached SC from 1928-1934 and never had a losing season. The most wins that Laval had in a season was 6 and only played 10 games a season.
This gives the Cocks its 11th straight non losing season in a row starting in 2004 under Lou Holtz and 11th straight year of being bowl eligible. In 10 years as coach Spurrier has had 10 consecutive non losing seasons and 10 straight bowl eligible seasons and 9 bowl trips in 10 years with Spurrier going 5-4 after starting out 1-4 with only the 2006 Liberty Bowl win over Houston before this four year run. This senior class with QB Dylan Thompson finishes with 40 wins which is the second most in a 4 year period with the 2013 senior class notching 42 wins. The 2012 senior class is 3rd with 38 wins and the 2011 is 4th with 34 wins.
It was a dreary, rainy day at the Independence Bowl Stadium as the Cocks wearing the all garnet for the fourth straight year in the bowls could not getting going offensively and the defense with two starters out on the DL as redshirt freshman DE David Johnson suffered a concussion in practice last week and was not cleared to play by the medical staff but the biggest blow was senior Defensive Tackle J.T. Surratt was hospitalized Christmas night with a stomach ailment and was reported that Surratt would need his gall bladder removed. Surratt was at the stadium 45 minutes before kickoff but could not play so DE Cedrick Cooper who has missed half the season with a high ankle sprain replaced Johnson and DT Phillip Dukes replaced Surratt in the lineup. But the defense bent but did not break as the Canes drove down field but only 2 FGs as the U lead 6-0 after the first quarter. In the first 22 minutes the offense could not get anything going but all of a sudden Thompson hit WR Pharoh Cooper with a pass at midfield and Cooper ran untouched for a 78 yard TD to give the Cocks a 7-6 lead. After forcing UM to punt the Cocks got 2 big pass plays one to Cooper for 15 yards and then to WR Damiere Byrd for 45 yards putting the ball at the Canes 5 yard line. A holding penalty put the ball at the 15 and on third and goal Thompson rolled to his left and found Davis in the back of the end zone for a 14-6 lead. True freshman UM QB Brad Kayaa threw a pass to star RB Duke Johnson who let the ball bounce out of his hands and into LB Jonathan Walton’s hands and brought the ball back to the UM 15 but a blocking below the waist penalty put the ball at the Canes 35 where PK Elliott Fry kicked a 31 yard FG to give the Cocks a 17-6 lead at halftime as the Cocks in the last 8 minutes of the 2nd quarter could no absolutely no wrong but I knew that this game was far from over.
In the 3rd quarter the Canes dominated and looked like they would control the game as they drove 93 yards to cut the lead to 17-14 as the 4th quarter began. The Cocks had 2nd down and 2 past midfield but 3 running gained nothing and the U took over and drove down to the Cocks 31 before a 3 yard loss on 3rd down forced a 51 yard FG by the UM kicker that was wide left. Again the Cocks could not move the ball and punted the ball back to the Canes at their own 27. But the play of the game and the season occurred as UM’s Johnson was corralled by DE Gerald Dixon as his legs were tangled with Dixon’s. But on the review it showed that Johnson fumbled the ball and Dixon recovered at the Cane 30. The replay booth spotted this and relayed the play to the referee and awarded the ball to the Cocks. One play later Thompson hit Cooper on a 28 yard gain to the U 2 and expecting Davis or RB Brandon Wilds to get the ball Thompson faked the ball to Wilds and ran untouched into the end zone to give the Cocks a 24-14 lead with 4:13 left but I knew not to start celebrating yet and was right as the U matched 76 yards in under 2 minutes as again the U cut the lead to 24-21 with 2:16 left and all 3 timeouts left. A stop by the Canes and they could tie or even win the game. I was surprised that they did not use the onside kick but kick it out of the end zone and give the ball to the Cocks at the 25. Thompson hit Cooper for 5 yards but stepped out of bounds to momentarily stop the clock as the rule is that the clock stops with 2 under minutes left in each half but it was over 2 minutes but 10 seconds would have made a difference. Davis on 2nd down and 5 Davis ran for 4 making it 3rd down and 1 at the 34 and the Canes used their first timeout. After a timeout by Spurrier and 1:39 left it was now or never for the Cocks. Davis got the ball needing 1 yard and got 2: FIRST DOWN GAMECOCKS!!. MIami had to burn their second timeout then after Thompson ran for 4 yards the Canes burned their final timeout with 1:30 left. Davis ran for 2 and with no timeouts SC called timeout just as the 40 second play clock ran with 45 seconds. Thompson ran around until going down with 40 seconds left and that was the game SC 24 UM 21. as the Cocks finish a bad year on a high note with a 7-6 record.
I have always said that there are 3 seasons: Season 1 the first 11 games, Season 2 the Clemson game and Season 3 the bowl game. Season one went 6-5 and just barely got bowl eligible, Season two the Cocks laid a big egg against the rival tigers and Season 3 the Bowl win. I knew in preseason that the Cocks lost way too many playmakers on defense and our record setting QB Connor Shaw and I felt that with a young defense the Cocks would struggle and struggle they did. The Cocks played 29 first timers this year and most on defense and it clearly showed throughout the season but the Cocks won the Florida game when it looked like they would lose the game and won the next game over South Alabama to get bowl eligible. The Cocks only lose a handful of players on defense to graduation and return a young nucleus of players who took their limps this season. This team clearly needs more talent and speed especially on defense and the 9 players who signed early with 7 on defense will give the Cocks much improvement. The offense loses a lot of players as Davis will turn pro along with OL A.J. Cann and Corey Robinson will graduate as will TE Busta Anderson and WRs Byrd and Nick Jones. Troubled WR Shaq Roland left the team before heading to Shreveport and I am not surprised that he left. I hope he finds what we wants. The big question is replacing QB Dylan Thompson who fishes his career with a 10-6 record as a starter and was the greatest 1-2 punch QB with Shaw from 2011-2013 and staring in 2014 so the first time since 2010 someone other than Shaw or Thompson will be the QB. It could be rising sophomore Connor Mitch who started to improve the last half of the season in practice. Most QBs it takes at least 3 years to get comfortable in the system they are running so this will Mitch’s 3rd year at SC but I will worry about that in the spring. Right now I will enjoy the winter and celebrate New Year’s Eve. Recruiting will be big in January as the Feb 4th Signing Day approaches and the defects may or may not regret their decision. As I said I want players that want to be at SC and that 6-6 season is the main reason for the defections but now with this the Cocks may not lose anyone so stay tuned. I will be now a basketball fan of both men’s and women’s going on.
HAPPY NEW YEAR AND IT IS GREAT TO BE A GAMECOCK!!!!